Tahisha Pearson Fugate: Improving Diversity and Inclusion in Legal Profession
The call for more diversity and inclusion is becoming louder and more critical in the legal industry. Tahisha Pearson Fugate wanted to be part of the solution to long-standing challenge of diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal industry. Her passion for leveraging diverse talent to provide innovation solutions for clients’ most complex business challenges, as well as the skills she has built during her 16-year legal business development career led her to Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, where she serves as the Sr. Manager DEI Client Development. She could not be more excited than she is at present about the work she will be able to do in identifying opportunities to help those underrepresented in the legal industry grow their careers and building a pipeline of legal professionals who represent the real world.
In an interview with Insights Success, Tahisha shares about her inspiring business journey. She is the wife of Rashawn Fugate and mother to Jamari Cunningham (18) and Sophia Fugate (6). She serves on the Advisory Board of The Conscious Inclusion Company and former Vice President for the Prince George’s County Chapter of Mocha Moms, Inc and Program Director for Legal Marketing Association — Mid-Atlantic.
Below are the highlights of the interview between Tahisha and Insights Success:
How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to entice the target audience?
Among law firms, Orrick is a pioneer in advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, including being one of the founding firms in an unprecedented collaboration to improve diversity and inclusion in the legal profession — the Move the Needle (MTN) Fund. MTN is a five-year, $5 million effort that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. This initiative brings together peer law firms, corporate legal departments, and community leaders to develop goals and work together to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal industry. Orrick is committed to having at least 55% diverse teams — including women, lawyers of color, and LGBTQ+ lawyers — serving an initial set of 40 clients in meaningful roles by 2025, as representative of some of the goals of MTN. In my new role, I will support this initiative as well as others that align with the firm’s commitment to increasing DEI within the firm and the legal industry.
What are the vital traits that every woman business leader should possess?
Every woman business leader needs to tap into their resilience, confidence, innate leadership, and ability to build relationships. Don’t be afraid of creating your own path and defining success for yourself. Women are the backbone of this country so naturally, we are badass in business. Own that energy.
Where are you focusing your energy now, and where do you hope to make an impact next?
I am focusing my energy on creating more equity and inclusion in the legal industry for diverse lawyers and professionals. Building a pipeline of lawyers and business professionals that are representative of a full scope of backgrounds and experiences is very important to the future of business.
What is your idea of impactful leadership? What style of leadership do you personally prefer and hope to implement within your team at Orrick?
Impactful leadership empowers others and encourages everyone to bring their best selves and ideas to the profession. An impactful leader values building relationships and understands how to authentically grow them. I prefer to empower and offer grace — to myself and others. I consider it a privilege to play a role in helping others grow their careers and with great privilege comes great responsibility. My responsibility is to identify opportunities for my team members to grow, learn, and become confident in their contributions, and support them along the way.
What roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?
As a Black woman in the legal industry, especially not being a lawyer, I’ve faced many challenges. For many years, I’ve been the only person that looked like me in several rooms. The legal profession has historically been hierarchical — lawyers at the top, staff at the bottom. Business professionals in law firms often feel marginalized. Add to that being Black and being a woman, at times it’s been a tough environment to navigate when you don’t see people that look like you at the top or who have any experience working with someone who understands your background. I didn’t attend an Ivy League college or business school — my educational path was non-traditional, and I often found that there are very few people in my professional circles who share my experiences. By the time I graduated from undergrad I was already a mother. When I decided to go back to school to pursue my MBA, my son was 7/8 years old and I had a full-time, very demanding, role at a large law firm. As a mom years ago, law firms didn’t offer a lot of support and resources for working parents — especially staff. Leadership did not have experience or training to manage professional parents — many still don’t, and it showed in the way I was treated at times — often with me feeling pressured to choose between being a mom and being a professional. Leadership often made it hard for those roles to co-exist. To overcome these challenges, I learned to advocate for myself and my career and I do the same for my community. I continued to show up, take full advantage of opportunities presented but also create opportunities for myself, and develop the mind set of “doing it scared.” And most importantly, I learned to ask for and accept help and I’ve been blessed with a personal and professional village that supports me.
I’m encouraged by the positive changes I’m seeing in the legal industry with regard to DEI but real change takes consistent and thoughtful effort and time. So, I’m committed to rolling up my sleeves and doing my part.
According to you, what essential traits should a business leader possess to thrive in any given competitive market?
A business leader should possess the ability to be open to change, consciousness, empathy, and authentic relationships. There are many studies that confirm diverse teams are most innovative. A business leader should know how to authentically leverage diverse talent, backgrounds, and skill sets to drive business growth and empower her team to be successful.
What have you envisioned for your organization’s future, with regards to your role at Orrick and for your personal ambitions as well?
I envision leaving the legal profession better than I entered it — more colorful (figuratively and literally). I look forward to identifying and creating growth opportunities for attorneys and legal professionals of color and a legacy for my children that encourages them to be limitless and makes them proud to be Black. I feel hopeful that there is an opportunity to create great change in the profession and we have a duty to take full advantage of this time. Future generations are counting on the work that we do now to create opportunities for them, where they will find others that look like them in the rooms that they enter and empower them to grow as far as they dream. Leadership in the legal profession across business functions — lawyers and legal professionals — will be representative of the world in which we live and work.